Project Description

Future West Capacity Building Workshops

Future West believes that successful conservation requires successful conservation organizations. The Northern Rockies is extremely fortunate to have such a diversity of conservation NGOs engaged in an array of issues ranging from the protection of public lands, sustainable management of working landscapes and watersheds, support of local efforts plan for growth, protecting private lands through conservation easements – the list goes on and on.

However, many of these organizations, particularly those working in rural areas and embracing a community-based approach, have small staffs and modest budgets. While knowledgeable and experienced, they sometimes lack an in-depth understanding of the organizational management skills needed to be a successful and financially sustainable operation.

Recognizing that their success is key to the success of landscape scale conservation, Future West joined with other NGOs, including Sustainable Northwest and the High Divide Collaborative, to create a regional Capacity-Building Program with the goal of “turbocharging” these local community-based organizations through:

  1. Group trainings and workshops.
  2. One-on-one technical assistance.
  3. Small grants to help implement the skills acquired at these workshops.
  4. Building a network of regional NGOs to enhance peer-to-peer support.

Before the official launch of this program, Future West and its project partners undertook an extensive survey of capacity-building needs, which helped to identify priority training topics and the most effective means of delivering that assistance.

In the past decade, dozens of community-based conservation groups have benefitted from a host of group trainings, we awarded over $50,000 in small grants, and several partner organizations have received direct assistance from Future West staff, as well as Future West Associates.

Here’s a list of workshop topics and content:

How to Be a Community Catalyst

This workshop presented tools and strategies for helping NGOs become more involved in rural community development challenges. It began with an overview of regional growth trends and issues, and what they mean for community well-being – economies, quality of life, affordability, and the environment, followed by strategies for public engagement to gather the best ideas from the community. Examples of successful community planning, development, and conservation that was initiated by “community catalysts” were presented by the people who led these projects. Elected officials shared their thoughts on how to work effectively with local governments. And representatives from government agencies and NGOs that support rural development described how to best tap into their expertise and financial resources.

In the end, workshop participants had the opportunity to present their own proposed community development project in a “Shark Tank” setting. Agenda and workshop template available here:

Monitoring and Evaluating Organization Success

Working with the firm “Dialogues in Action”, Future West organized and hosted two interrelated workshops to help organizations track and evaluate how they are succeeding in achieving their mission and goals. The approach was unique in that it emphasized how these organizations can ascertain changes in behavior among the target audience of their work, in order to better understand the effectiveness, or lack of effectiveness, of their conservation programs. Participants actually interviewed several of their community partners to document changes in their personal land use practices that were a result of that NGOs actions and programs.

Best Practices for Community-Based Collaboration

More and more conservation organizations are embracing and utilizing community-based collaborative approaches in their programs. But like any conservation practice, it requires knowledge and experience in order to be successful. A workshop carried out by Future West was designed to identify and produce a set of “Best Practices” that could be used by fledgling collaborative groups. Through presentations, case studies and small group discussions, the keys to organizing and facilitating successful collaborations began to emerge. By the end of the workshop, the walls were plastered with butcher paper with scribbled notes and observations. Students from the University of Montana who attended the workshop later synthesized this information into a comprehensive yet succinct “Online Guide to Best Practices for Community-Based Collaboration”, now posted on the Future West website. This Guide is being widely used by people from around the West who are involved, or would like to be involved, in collaborative conservation initiatives.

Techniques for Successful Facilitation

Group facilitation is an important skill for anyone involved in community-based conservation work. An intensive two-day workshop led by facilitation expert Julien Griggs helped participants understand the fundamentals of effective facilitation. Ample role-playing helped participants hone these skills and practice techniques for ensuring that meetings and gatherings are well planned, constructively run, and actually produce tangible results. An extensive workbook provided detailed background information on topics covered during the workshop, and made for a handy reference that participants can use when back in the field.

Organizational Capacity-Building Workshops for High Divide NGOs

Future West, in collaboration with Sustainable Northwest, the Nature Conservancy and the High Divide Collaborative, hosted two very well-attended workshops that covered a wide array of NGO organizational development issues such as fundraising, strategic planning, communications, board development, administration and financing, crafting a theory of change, and several other crucial topics. Participants also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with workshop presenters who are experts in a variety of related topics, to glean advice on specific organizational development issues. Afterwards, participants were invited to submit small grant proposals that related to topics covered during the workshops. Future West eventually awarded $50,000 in small grants to support activities such as strategic planning, NGO accounting systems, website development, and communications planning. Results from a survey conducted with High Divide organizations on this topic are available here.

Strategic Communications for Conservationists

With the assistance of communications specialist Dick Brooks, Future West hosted a workshop for conservationists interested in improving their personal and organizational communications skills and strategies. Brooks emphasized the need to ask these questions before developing a communications plan:

  • What do you want to have happen?
  • Who can make that happen?
  • What do they have to hear?
  • Who do they have to hear it from?

Such questions are the key to achieving communications objectives. The workshop gave the participants had the opportunity to actually explore those questions as they related to specific conservation projects; many found that the resulting communications strategies and actions were significantly different from those they were using. Summary of how to build an effective communication program available here.

After the Flood Waters Recede – A Workshop for Watershed Managers

After a year of damaging high spring runoff, Future West organized a workshop on planning and managing river conservation in a manner that keeps people and property out of harms way, yet allows natural processes associated with rivers to function with minimal human intervention. Future West Associate Karin Boyd, noted geologist and river restoration specialist, facilitated this workshop utilizing the Burns Communication Center at Montana State University. This enabled people from around the region to participate remotely.

Future West Involvement in Other Workshops

Future West staff have participated in the workshops and conferences of many other organizations as guest speakers, co-organizers, and facilitators. These have included, for example, the Montana Institute of Architects, the Montana Association of Planners, the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute, Montana Smart Growth Coalition, the Building Active Communities Institute, American Prairie Reserve’s Living with Wildlife conference, Arthur Blank Foundation West Fork Workshops, the Collaborative Conservation Summit at Colorado State University, The Annual High Divide Collaborative Meeting, and many others.